How to stop the pitch invaders


NOW that we have had time to reflect on the attack on Jack Grealish at Blues yesterday, it’s time to wonder where we go from here.

The Times’s chief football writer Henry Winter says: “The authorities cannot allow a copycat escalation. Their action has to be robust.” He says ground closures are the answer.

Personally, I was going to say, ‘Now that the dust has settled’, but I suspect the ripple effect from this one is going to take time to disappear.

For Birmingham City as a club, you have to sympathise. Yes, there was a presence of police and stewards, but nobody expects a complete idiot to make a dash on to the field and thump the opposition’s key man.

Anyone who cheered and applauded Paul Mitchell’s actions will have woken up this morning with second thoughts.

And even though some have said the court’s 14-week jail sentence is too lenient, it is likely to wreck Mitchell’s life way beyond that and serves as a deterrent to anyone who fancies their chances next time around.

Could the stewarding at the ground have stopped it? Doubtful when you consider the speed of incursion took everyone by surprise, even the players simply thought it was a nutcase looking for his 10 seconds of fame on the telly.

He certainly got fame, but it was more than a few moments of trying to impress his mates.

It was front page news, back page, headlines on TV and online. If he wanted some sort of cult hero status among Blues fans, he got it for a while at least.

More than one person has suggested a points deduction. Copycat was the word just a few hours later when a fan ran on the pitch and collided with Manchester United defender Chris Smalling.

Luckily, both players escaped relatively unharmed. The suggestion that one of the culprits could have a knife is not far-fetched in the current climate.

And there lies the question. Security at grounds was increased in the aftermath of terrorist atrocities. But checking everyone’s pockets before a game is a mighty task.

Some sort of punishment has to be meted out – and I include Arsenal in that.

If it means teams playing in front of empty stadiums for one match, so be it. That would stop the nutty guy’s mates egging him on next time, someone might even try and stop him.

Two incidents in the same day in English football is the sort of thing to make the FA sit up and take notice.

Some of us thought these days had disappeared in the 80s, clearly not. And when Birmingham and Villa meet, commonsense goes out of the window for some fans,

The FA have promised a crackdown on fan misbehaviour after yesterday’s events.

They have written to both home clubs, Blues and Arsenal, and want to know what security measures both had in place.

An FA spokesperson said: “This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour. On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.

“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk. This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.

“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.

In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”

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